The Afghan con­nec­tion

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Cyril Almeida

SO, now what? Let's be re­al­is­tic about the ter­ri­ble­ness. Re­al­is­tic, ad­mit­tedly, as only non-vic­tims can be. It was Charsadda. It was a frac­tion of APS. And it wasn't lit­tle kids. It's a trou­bling as­sump­tion, but we can only as­sume they'd rather have hit some­thing else. An­other APS. A proper mil­i­tary school. Maybe a mall. Prob­a­bly a big city. But re­venge was wrought on a place most of us can't lo­cate on a map.

Yet, it's an old pat­tern. When they can't get to the hits they re­ally want, they go af­ter some­thing else. When hard tar­gets be­come dif­fi­cult, they go for soft ones. When schools be­come bet­ter pro­tected, they'll hit a mall. When air­bases be­come im­pos­si­ble, they'll go back to bus stands. But Charsadda is im­por­tant. Be­cause not all ter­ror­ist at­tacks are the same. Know what hap­pened in Khy­ber a day be­fore? Or was it Pe­shawar? Quetta wasn't even a blip.

All lives may be equal, but ter­ror­ism knows the dif­fer­ence. A small hit on a hard tar­get in Karachi equals a big hit on a soft tar­get in Charsadda. An at­tack that takes out a large num­ber of sol­diers equals an at­tack that takes out a few kids. And there's noth­ing - noth­ing - like a fi­day­een at­tack on chil­dren.

It is the purest form of ter­ror. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons. They aren't dy­ing in a se­cond. Not like in an ex­plo­sion. They see the ter­ror. They know what's com­ing. They watch their friends die. Here's the ques­tion, though: the Tal­iban seem to have fig­ured us out, but have we fig­ured them out? The most fright­en­ing part of Charsadda wasn't the at­tack - it was the re­sponse. Not the QRFs and the ISPR pressers. But where in­stantly it was de­cided the at­tack came from: Afghanistan. And be­cause who was blamed: Umar Man­sour.

The heart sinks when you hear Afghanistan. Not be­cause of NDS or RAW or what­ever else is fash­ion­able to blame. For a more straight­for­ward rea­son: who in this world re­ally be­lieves that Afghanistan will ever be sta­ble? Now or pos­si­bly ever? And even if Afghanistan is ever sta­ble, just look at the bor­der in the east. It is a bor­der like no other. Barbed, fenced, mined, locked-down; sol­diers and pa­trols ready to shoot any­one, no ques­tions asked. And yet Pathankot hap­pened.

If Pathankot can hap­pen 68 years in, what in the hell is the pos­si­bil­ity of thwart­ing a se­ri­ous at­tack from Afghanistan - now or ever?

And then there's the guy who's been blamed: Umar Man­sour. Umar who?

Not all threats from Afghanistan can't be dis­man­tled. Back in the day, there was a Riaz Basra and an Akram La­hori.

They ter­rorised Pun­jab be­fore de­camp­ing to Afghanistan. Khost, as leg­end has it. That's where our pals, the Haqqa­nis, were hang­ing out. Back when the Tal­iban were in charge. But they were even­tu­ally taken out and dif­fi­cult to re­place. A Riaz Basra is not born ev­ery­day. Umar Man­sour is scary be­cause he's a no­body. Not in a ter­ror­ist sense. He sounds like a ter­ri­ble man. Scary in a repli­ca­tion sense. Be­fore Umar Man­sour there was Maulana Fill-in-the-blanks X. Af­ter Umar Man­sour, there'll be a Mul­lah Fill-in-the-blanks Y. Umar Man­sour is like your eter­nal Al Qaeda No 3s.

There'll al­ways be an­other Umar Man­sour. When wicked­ness is dreamt up in Afghanistan and ex­e­cuted by an em­i­nently re­place­able sort, what hope, re­ally, is there for sta­bil­ity in Pak­istan?

And here's where the un­pleas­ant ques­tion needs to be asked. What in the hell kind of Afghanistan are we try­ing to recre­ate? Sure, the Amer­i­cans de­cided they wanted no part of it any longer and are will­ing to cut what­ever deal pos­si­ble. Sure, the Afghan govern­ment knows it's mired in the im­pos­si­ble and wants any deal it can get be­fore state col­lapse.

Sure, Pak­istan has been earnest and help­ful in the quest for a deal. But what in God's name are we re­ally do­ing? Just work through it.

Right now, the Afghan govern­ment is un­able or un­will­ing to sort out the an­tiPak­istan mil­i­tants who've found sanc­tu­ary in its east­ern provinces. Fine.

They - the Afghan govern­ment - want some­thing from us just now, so that gives us lev­er­age. That's why Ra­heel can ring up Kabul to de­mand and the Amer­i­cans to com­plain. They have to lis­ten, we have to deal; it's a win-win sce­nario - right now. But let's imag­ine a deal gets made. Afghanistan is ei­ther ef­fec­tively carved up or the Tal­iban are given a bunch of seats in Kabul. Then what, re our en­e­mies in Afghanistan? The in­cen­tive for the Afghan govern­ment - the non-Tal­iban el­e­ments - to help us out would dis­ap­pear. They'll have what they want and they'll prob­a­bly tell us to go talk to the Tal­iban.

It would even make some kind of sense - af­ter all, the ter­ror threat to Pak­istan from Afghan soil would mostly em­anate from ar­eas our friends, the Tal­iban, are ei­ther con­trol­ling or in­flu­en­tial in. So, over to the Tal­iban we'll go. Guys, help us out.

At that point, what's their in­cen­tive to help us out? They'd have out­lasted two su­per­pow­ers, won power a decade-and-ahalf apart and need us less than ever. And, let's not for­get, we'd be ask­ing them to crush their ide­o­log­i­cal com­pan­ions. The very folk who, most re­cently, would have helped them fight against IS and the like.

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